A dessert of sea buckthorn, carrots and liquorice from Sixpenny pastry chef Hanna Leinonen
Credit: Anna Kucera

With Friends of The Gantry, an ingenious new pop-up dining series taking place over the course of the next month, some of the state’s most exciting culinary talent is on display in a degustation showcase of dishes created by different chefs from various provinces around New South Wales.

The dishes on offer at The Gantry, which is located in the harbourside Pier One hotel and debuted with a soft opening last week, change completely with the arrival of each new chef on the menu. The only constant woven throughout is their friendship with head chef Joel Bickford; that, and the enigmatic way in which Bickford writes his menu using a kind of culinary Morse code. In that way, the lineup for the evening resembles something akin to a cross between the consciously diverse all-star casts of one of Marvel’s many superhero spin-offs and a way of drastically shortening your culinary bucket list (and the travel time it would require) in one fell swoop. In short, it’s a win-win.

Start, as all things should, with a dessert of “sea buckthorn – carrots – liquorice” from Sixpenny pastry chef Hanna Leinonen. In both appearance and execution, it totally defies expectations of what a liquorice-based dessert should be (to put it gently, ‘divisive’ at best; ‘abhorrent’ at worst). Instead, the result is a Nordic-inflected duet between a quenelle of sea buckthorn sorbet, a layer of mousse-like liquorice with the appearance of honeycomb and, on deeper digging, a more intense liquorice centre. For those inclined to think of liquorice as little more than an inconvenient impediment to whatever else is on the plate, it’s a revelation. A halo of pickled carrots doubles down on the element of surprise in what proves to be a stand-out dish on the five-course menu.

Pheasant, chestnut, white raisin and brassica star in a dish by The Gantry chef Joel Bickford
Credit: Anna Kucera/Courtesy of The Gantry

The first chef Bickford has enlisted for his revolving menu is Troy Rhoades-Brown of Muse Restaurant, a two-hatted eatery in the Hunter Valley, who does a wonderful job of championing mackerel from nearby Newcastle. James Viles of Biota in Bowral, where Bickford previously worked and whose influence is clearly discerned in a great deal of artful plating, contributes a dish of “potatoes – truffles – smoked corn – sheeps milk” as the second dish. It’s a celebration of truffle and its less glamorous sibling, the humble spud, using four varieties found in the Southern Highlands region around Viles’s restaurant.

Both dishes are largely emblematic of every chef’s contribution to the evening (the degustation is also available for lunch), rooted as they are in seasonality and a deep respect for the produce they’re working with. Aaron Ward, sous chef at Sixpenny, and Bickford follow Viles with highly-refined dishes of “Murray cod – celeriac – black olive – salt bush” and “pheasant – chestnut – white raisin – brassica” respectively, before Leinonen closes out the proceedings in a spectacular Finnish fashion.

As is often the case when a director stumbles on a winning formula, a sequel will no doubt follow shortly. Best catch the original while it lasts.

The five-course Friends of The Gantry degustation menu is priced at $99 per person (with matching wines an additional $65 per person), which includes a donation to OzHarvest. You can find out more information here.

Tile image: Anna Kucera/Courtesy of The Gantry
Cover image: Jarrad Seng/Courtesy of The Gantry